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Category: RAN WW2/Hobart

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  HMAS Hobart; a potted history

The second of the 3 RN cruisers to join the RAN, Hobart was launched at Devonport, as HMS Apollo, on 9th Oct 1934. After two years service with the RN she was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Hobart on Sep. 28th, 1938.

On the day WW2 broke out, Hobart put to sea from Sydney to safeguard the eastern coastal routes. She remained in those waters until 13th Oct when she was despatched to Singapore. In November she was one of several Allied units searching for a raider known to be in the area (Graf Spee). During Nov. and Dec. she undertook patrols and escorts in the Bombay - Gulf of Aden area. For a time she was with "Force I". Hobart joined the escort on 1st Feb 1940 for the Colombo to Suez leg of the first troop convoy from Australia and New Zealand to the Middle East. From April she operated out of Aden. 

Allied shipping using the Red Sea required protection as the Italians had considerable land and air forces in Abyssinia/Somaliland and their submarines were a threat to convoys. On patrol in the Arabian Sea in April 40 she captured a Danish freighter which a prize crew sailed to Colombo. On 22nd May she shared the harbour with her big sister Sydney, originally bound for duty in the Red Sea, but diverted to the Med. The heat and dust made life aboard the ships very difficult and on one day in June 1940 Hobart had 200 active cases of prickly heat. Tinea was rife and death from heat stroke was a constant threat. On 19th June, as a relief from the general tedium, Hobartís Seagull spotter plane made a lone bombing raid on an Italian wireless station in the Red Sea.

 Italyís entry into the war in June 1940 had serious consequences for the British around the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. On July 1st Hobart landed Punjabi reinforcements at Berbera in British Somaliland. Whilst hardly an offensive weapon, Hobartís spotter plane undertook a bombing raid on the Italian airfield at Zeila, Somaliland; Italian bombers returned the favour by straddling the cruiser with bombs. 

To reinforce the sparse British lines at the Battle of Tug Argan Gap, Hobart landed a Hotchkiss saluting gun on a makeshift carriage and 3 sailors to man it on 9th Aug. When the positions were over-run, they were taken prisoner but were recovered in April 41 when the British captured Eritrea. On 15th Aug Hobart led the force evacuating Empire troops from Berbera, and on the 19th she shelled the port installations as the Italians entered the town. Rome Radio reported that the "battleship" Hobart had been sunk at Berbera and her crew taken prisoner. 

During escort duty between September and November Hobart came under attack (usually at a high level with little success) from Italian bombers. Hobart returned to Australia in December for trade route and troop convoy defence, arriving in Fremantle on Dec. 28th. She had a refit at Cockatoo island dockyard in June 1941, to ready her for service in the Mediterranean.

In July 41 Hobart arrived in the Med. to take Perthís place. Over the next 4 months she was under frequent air attack and saw a variety of actions - bombarding shore batteries near Tobruk; shelling German and Italian defences in the Halfaya Pass, Libya; reinforcing Cyprus; supporting the Battle Fleet etc. She was the last RAN cruiser to be withdrawn home. She left the Med. in Dec. 41 escorting a convoy to Singapore where she undertook local defence duties as part of the ABDA Fleet. 

Late in Jan. Hobart, Perth and their escorts were assigned to the ABDA Command in Java. Bound for Batavia on Feb 3rd Hobart came upon a burning British vessel, and under air attack she took off the passengers and crew. Allied ships were hard pressed escorting convoys of evacuees and reinforcements. On 15th Feb Hobart escaped from 13 attacks involving 109 aircraft and on 25th she sustained injuries and slight damage when caught refuelling from a tanker. Because of this, she didnít join the main ABDA force but led a small "Western Force" on a sweep from Batavia to the area of Banka and Biliton on 26th/27th where she found nothing. 

Meanwhile the "Eastern Force" was engaged in the Battle of the Java Sea. The ad hoc ABDA Fleet did not last long in the face of the concentrated Japanese attack and Hobart was one of the few larger ships to survive. At dawn on the 28th, Hobart and her outdated companions passed through the Sunda Strait - the same waters in which her sister Perth would be sunk at the end of the day, and already containing the litter and wreckage of battle. The convoy reached Padang in Sumatra where Hobart embarked over 500 refugees and sailed for Colombo, eventually returning to Australia.

At the Battle of Coral Sea (May 4th - 8th,1942) Hobart was with the cruiser group blocking the path of the Japanese invasion force bound for Port Moresby. The force came under heavy air attack and Hobart claimed 3 bombers downed (in the Med. her rapid and accurate AA fire had earned her the nickname "The Flaming Angel"). In August she was at the Guadalcanal landings.

On 20th July, 1943 Hobart suffered casualties and extensive damage when torpedoed in the New Hebrides by a Japanese submarine at a range of 10 miles. Repairs took 17 months and she was not ready for action again until Dec 1944. In March 1945 Hobart bombarded enemy positions on Cebu Island, Philippines, and in May she provided cover fire for landings at Tarakan and Wewak, New Guinea. 

In June she and Shropshire were engaged at the invasion of Brunei. Later in June she took part in bombardments in preparation for the Balikpapan landings, which she helped cover on 1st July. She was in Tokyo Harbour for the signing of the Japanese surrender. Hobart saw 2 more years of service before paying off into reserve. Shortly after a major refit to equip her as a training ship she was sold off. In March 1962 she left Australia under tow, once again bound for Japan - this time for a breakerís yard in Osaka.

To the public, Hobart was much less well known than her sister ships which did not survive. Hers was a varied and valuable service. For a short time Hobart flew Commodore Farncombís flag while Admiral Kinkaid "borrowed" Australia for his flagship. Her original complement of 650 swelled to over 900 by warís end. Despite being in the thick of the action on many occasions, her losses were few. 

  • Thirteen officers and ratings were lost on July 20th, 1943, when she was torpedoed.

 

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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces